From the 60 Minutes archives: The true story behind "Just Mercy"

In 1992, Ed Bradley reported that the wrong man might have been sitting on Alabama's death row. "Just Mercy," a movie about the case, opens in theaters this week

The true story behind “Just Mercy”
The true story behind “Just Mercy” 15:10

In November 1992, an Alabama man who had been on death row for almost six years told 60 Minutes the state was preparing to execute the wrong person. Convicted of robbing and murdering the clerk of a dry cleaning shop in Monroeville, Walter McMillian told correspondent Ed Bradley he have never even been to the Alabama town.  
 
"Did they get the wrong man? And is the real murderer still out there somewhere?" Bradley asked on the broadcast. "A jury was convinced they got the right man, but you may not be after you watch this story." 

As Bradley reported, the crime had stumped law enforcement. They had no fingerprints, no ballistic tests, and no physical evidence of any kind linking McMillian, known to his friends as Johnny D., or anyone else to the scene. 

All police had was an alleged witness, a career criminal who was doing time for another murder. Ralph Myers testified that he had been in Johnny D.'s pickup truck outside the cleaners when McMillian went in to rob the shop.

A judge thought it was enough to sentence McMillian to the electric chair. 

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Walter McMillian

"I have never had a case where the state's only evidence of guilt comes from one person, where there's no motive, there's no physical evidence, there's no corroborating circumstances," Bryan Stevenson, the attorney who took on McMillian's appeal case, told Bradley. "There's nothing but the word of one person."

That one person had lied on the stand, which Stevenson proved to the Alabama Court of Criminal Appeals in the months after the 60 Minutes report aired. He also showed that the prosecution had illegally suppressed exculpatory evidence. The court overturned the conviction, and on March 2, 1993, Johnny D. left the courtroom as a free man. 

Now his story is coming to the big screen. 

The film "Just Mercy" chronicles the legal drama, based Stevenson's book of the same name. Michael B. Jordan plays the idealistic defense attorney, and Jamie Foxx plays Johnny D. The film opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.